Dublin priest lashes Church leaders on referendum

A Dublin-based priest has insisted that “heads would roll” if a political party lost a vote as badly as the Church did in the marriage referendum. He also accused some of the bishops of giving “no leadership”.

Fr Joe McDonald of St Matthew’s parish in west Dublin told The Irish Catholic “my difficulty is that the result in the referendum represents a huge chasm between the teaching of the Church and the feeling in the streets”, saying that the Church’s problems go far beyond the referendum, and that it has a real challenge fulfilling its calling to “preach the Gospel in the marketplace”.

“I think the leadership in the Church is tired… I don’t want to be unfair or harsh, but we need to look at leadership and how we select leaders,” he said. “I know there’s a process and it’s not done willy-nilly, but when we select leaders what do we select them to do? What is the role of the bishop today?”

Church leaders can often find themselves in no-win situations, he admits, where refusals to give interviews can be seen as cowardice but those who give interviews often find that “booby-traps and curve balls knock bishops flat on their face”. Basic communication skills can be lacking, he said, and this can be a problem at all levels of the Church.

Describing the hierarchy as good, holy, articulate and academic men, he nonetheless lamented “I don’t see any prophetic voices”.

While commending Archbishop Diarmuid Martin as “probably the best of them”, and saying that some newer bishops like Elphin’s Bishop Kevin Doran look promising, he said that among the hierarchy are “men who gave no leadership whatsoever on this topic and on many other topics”.

Such men, he said, should “go to prayer and ask God genuinely ‘have I served my diocese well in terms of this referendum? Have I given courageous prophetic leadership that people were able to understand? Did I do that as the shepherd of the flock?’

“And if they come to an honest conclusion,” he said, “they should slip gently into a nice, peaceful, restful retirement”.

Claiming that too many of Ireland’s schools are only “nominally Catholic”, he said that genuinely Catholic schools are “not getting the level of support that they need, either from the leadership within the Church or from the State”.

“If we can’t have a vibrant prophetic leadership then we should pack up.”